Best wishes on the recent publication of your sixth book,
Raising Courageous Kids: Eight Steps to Practical Heroism
and thank you for participating in this Book Spotlight interview. In
the acknowledgments for this book, you express appreciation to your own
family for their support. To begin, could you share with our readers a
little bit about your own background, family, and career as an educator?
CD: My father died in the Army
Air Corps shortly after WWII when I was thirteen months old. My mother and I
lived for two years with her parents, my wonderful grandparents. My
grandfather was a storyteller, writer, and radio producer. I still find his
imagination and creativity an inspiration. My mother remarried, and I spent
the rest of my childhood in Detroit where I attended St. Suzanne grade
school and Catholic Central High. I graduated from the University of Dayton
with a degree in psychology. I met my wife Betsy at Barney Children’s
Medical Center in Dayton where I worked as a play therapist with severely
and chronically ill children. After I graduated from Purdue with a Ph.D. in
child development I joined the faculty at Texas Tech University where I
taught preschool and eventually served as Director of their Child
Development Center. For the last 26 years, I have been a parent educator
with the Kansas State Research and Extension Service and a professor in the
School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. My
wife, son, and daughter, each in their own way, have inspired me by their
LH: You write that the events
of September 11, 2001 prompted the writing of this book. Why do you feel
that the message of Raising Courageous Kids is so important at this point in
time? What is the main message you hope readers would take away from the
CS: I began working on
Raising Courageous Kids
the day after 9-11. I was emotionally overwhelmed by the courage
demonstrated that day. I had to understand why the firefighters went up the
steps of the WTC while thousands of office workers rushed to safety. How
could the passengers on United Flight 93 rise up against their captors? Why
did a young office worker lead many to safety from high in the WTC only to
return to rescue more, eventually perishing in the collapse? I knew that
these amazing acts of courage were not spontaneous acts of combustion. They
were part of a tapestry of a person’s life composed of threads that could be
followed far back into time to where they originated during childhood.
We live in an age that requires
remaining steadfast in the face of danger and fear. My hope is that this
book will increase public discourse about the meaning of true heroism and
the origins of courage. I hope the book inspires parents to recognize and
nurture the beginnings of courage in their children.
LH: While the book is not a
"how to" or program per se, you offer eight "Steps" for courage development
from the birth of a child through early adolescence. Could you briefly
describe these steps?
begins during infancy and early childhood with the emergence of willpower. A
baby pushes herself from the mattress to look around. A toddler gets up
after falling down. A two-year-old tells his dad, “NO! ME NOT go bed!” A
wise parent recognizes the precious spark of willpower even while insisting
that it’s the child’s bedtime. Children need parents who convey the strength
of their restrictions.
of love in a young child’s life builds caring. Our devotion invites
children to care about other people. To reach out to others in their time of
need, children have to have the ability to care. Research on Carnegie Hero
Medal recipients and rescuers of Jews during WWII reveals a common
conviction in the value of human life.
preschool years, children begin to develop the ability to recognize and
evaluate danger, which I call vigilance. Brain structures responsible
for understanding context and the assessment of risk grow stronger.
learn to regulate and moderate their fear arousal through composure.
Imagine a preschooler climbing up a slide for the first time or a first
grader jumping off a diving board. These little victories over fear are
stepping stones to greater accomplishments as children grow older. Composure
reduces the danger of panic, which only increases risk.
preschool and the early elementary years, children can learn empathy,
which involves both awareness of how the lives of others differ from their
own and compassion toward their suffering. Caring and empathy both work
together to contribute to valor.
also begin to form a moral foundation that builds integrity. Their
internal code is more like a gyroscope that points to true north than a wind
vane that simply points to where the wind blows.
accountability for the consequences of one’s choices demonstrates a
commitment to justice and the capacity for honor. Children can learn
that they make choices that have an effect on others.
step is the capacity for valor, the ability to elevate courage by a noble
purpose. A young teen may intervene when someone is being attacked or facing
some other danger. They do not simply stand back passively, but neither do
they act recklessly without regard for their own safety or that of others.
Each of these
eight steps combine in movement more like a dance over time than walking up
a flight of stair steps. The eight steps build on each other and continue to
grow throughout childhood.
LH: I loved and was
tremendously inspired by the "Mighty Heart" profiles shared in the book. Can
you say a few words about the origin of these stories and their role in the
CS: First, I think it’s terribly
important to emphasize that there are two very different forms of courage.
One form of courage is displayed in emergency situations where quick
thinking and rapid risk management is important. The Mighty Heart
stories illustrate this form of courage. The other form of courage is more
persistent and enduring in situations where risk and danger continue over
time. A child with cystic fibrosis who faces the struggle of difficult
physical therapy and manages the fear and worry that accompanies the
constant danger to her life is an example of persistent courage. Enduring or
persistent courage is just as noble as the more dramatic and newsworthy
emergency forms of courage. The great risk in emergency circumstances is
panic. The great danger in persistent circumstances is depression.
Most of the Mighty Hearts
Raising Courageous Kids are young recipients of the
Carnegie Hero Medal. They serve as examples of the incredible capacity for
courage and heroism that can reside in young people under the age of
eighteen. The challenge all of us face, regardless of age, is to combine
courage with the capacity for vigilance. Only tragedy can result, for
example, when someone who does not know how to swim jumps into a raging
river to rescue a drowning person. I use the phrase, “Be smart with your
heart.” In other words, don’t run away when someone needs help or when you
might be facing danger. But do the right thing in a smart way.
LH: What role do you feel faith
plays in the raising of courageous children?
CS: When a child or adult is
afraid, the choice to boldly go forward to do the right thing is made
possible by hope. Even the passengers on United Flight 93 acted in hope to
stop the horror of what the terrorists intended, if not to save their own
lives. The child who pushes herself down the slide or jumps off the diving
board for the first time is acting in faith. Every act of courage is a risk.
The outcome is in doubt. True faith and trust in God can give strength to
weak knees. The test of fear is also a test of faith. Are we willing to do
the right thing, the smart thing, and place ourselves in the hands of God?
The stories of sacrifice and nobility demonstrated by Jesus and the saints
were an important part of my Catholic upbringing.
LH: For parents with older
children (ten to fourteen), is it too late to begin emphasizing the
importance of facing challenges with courage?
CS: I think there are two parts
to your question. First, what action should we take with older children and
second, what can we expect to accomplish.
I’ll start with the second
question. A child who has never experienced the devotion of a loving adult
is at risk for becoming a sociopath—a person who is incapable of feeling
guilt and shame and has no conscience. This outcome is extremely difficult
to change because early experience has had profoundly negative effects on
brain physiology. Other children may have experienced this love, but were
never encouraged to stand up for themselves and face fear. A child who has
had a lifetime of running away out of fear is going to have a very difficult
time with finding the heart to face and manage risk during the teen years.
Is it possible to make a difference with this child? Yes. And that brings me
to the second question.
Regardless of the probability of
being successful, we should ask ourselves, “What is the noblest thing to
do?” Would that be to give up? To retreat from the challenge? No. We have to
assume that anything reasonable is possible. We don’t know what lies within
the inner core of this young man or woman that could be touched by our
efforts. The word “inspire” comes from the Latin for “breathing life into.”
We have to believe that we can inspire any child, while at the same time
accepting the difficulty of the task. This is our own test of courage, to
hold on to hope and do the right thing even when the risk of failure is
LH: Are there additional
resources you could recommend that might assist parents in fostering heroism
in their children?
CS: I would like to invite your
readers to visit my new website at
http://www.raisingcourageouskids.com - There are many resources for them
to examine at the site including several informative PDF files. They can
also view my speaking/travel schedule, read about the book, and send their
comments to me. Teachers of 11-13-year-old children might be
interested in the Everyday Hero curriculum guide I created at
Raising Courageous Kids
has several outstanding references that I think parents and teachers might
LH: Thank you again for
your time and for this wonderful book,
Raising Courageous Kids.
Are there any closing thoughts you might wish to offer?
CS: Thanks for the kind words
about the book and for the opportunity to visit with your readers. I would
love to hear from them about any questions they might have about the website
or the book.
Our greatest monuments to those
who take risks and make sacrifices on behalf of others are not made of
stone, steel, and glass. They are not found in parks, on city streets, or in
public buildings. The greatest monument is an enduring shift in the human
spirit, a transformation made possible by the caring of others.
information or to order
Raising Courageous Kids visit
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